Fiction at its finest

Weekly Roundup: Not so rosy for Tremain, Philip Roth's retirement and a call for more e-books

16 November 2012

Rose Tremain, a Man Booker judge in 1988 and a shortlistee the following year, recently wrote in the Guardian about failing to win this year's Wellcome Trust Book Prize celebrating medicine in literature with her novel Merivel. It was one failure among many, she said, and went on to list the Man Booker, the Orange, the Whitbread, the Costa, the Impac, the Galaxy “Book of the Year” and the Frank O'Connor and the Radio Three short story awards as other non-triumphs. Her tale of woe did not go down well with one reader who pointed out that she had nevertheless scooped the Sunday Express Book of the Year, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, the Prix Femina Étranger, the Best Novel, Whitbread Awards in 1999, and the Orange Prize in 2008: “That's more than 99% of writers will ever win. So, you know, excuse me if I don't feel too bad for you failing to win this one.”

The great Philip Roth (winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2011) is hanging up his pen/computer. He told an interviewer for the French web magazine Les Inrocks that: “To be honest with you, I'm done. Nemesis will be my last book.” He hadn't written anything for three years, he said, and decided instead “to re-read the novels I'd loved when I was 20 or 30 … Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Conrad, Hemingway” and then re-read all his own books as well to see “if I'd wasted my time writing. And I thought it'd been more or less a success … I did the best I could have done with what I had”.

Disheartening news for e-reader owners. According to Tim Coates of the e-bookstore Bilbary, only 40 per cent of Man Booker prize winning and shortlisted titles are available as e-books. Although most of the more recent books have been digitised that is true of only 30 per cent of novels published before 2000 and a mere 25 per cent for those published prior to 1950. Time perhaps for some publishers to pull their digital finger out.

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